For years Google has been pushing for a mobile friendly web; though their recent announcement on mobile friendly results has made the importance of a mobile friendly site all the more salient.
On April 21st, Google will be “expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”
Essentially – the less mobile friendly your site is, the less likely you are to perform well in the search results (and your mobile users will have a really rubbish experience, to boot).
For those that haven’t already invested in a mobile friendly experience, hopefully this will be a final rallying cry for how essential this is to success. Google provides a wealth of resources and information for those not yet optimised for mobile to get you started. If you still need to make the step to a mobile friendly site, I recommend you begin here, and urge you to acknowledge that this will absolutely be an investment with return.
For the many that do have a mobile optimised site, there’s still some steps you can take in order to make sure that you mitigate any potential negative impacts of this change and understand your landscape to know exactly any tweaks that you can make pre and post update.
Benchmark your current performance
Do you understand your current mobile landscape? What landing pages and content are the best performing on mobile? Understanding this in advance of the update is imperative to ensure you are reacting in the right way afterwards, should there be any fluctuations.
Within Google Webmaster Tools you can filter both top queries and top pages by mobile to get a view of the types of queries and content that perform well on mobile; you know now that these are the pages you want to prioritise and protect. Contrasting this to desktop can also yield interesting results – are there fundamental differences in how people behave on site and consume content across devices?
It goes without saying, but understanding current percentage of traffic from mobile across channels, so you can easily identify if this changes.
Beyond this, understanding granular ranking data will also prove incredibly useful to track any changes post update; whatever you are currently using to track rankings, make sure it is configured to be analysing mobile as well.
Benchmark your current status against competitors
How mobile friendly are you comparatively to competitors? Using the mobile friendly labels and Google mobile testing tool are good indicators of whether you will be impacted; though it’s probably prudent to go beyond that and understand how mobile friendly you are against the benchmark of the entire SERP. If a competitor is penalised or prioritised, this will have an impact on your performance also.
Equally, knowing what your competitors are up to is a good way to prioritise your tasks (after all, the 21st is fast approaching!).
It’s important to point out at this stage that there are not variations within mobile friendly. According to Google, you either are mobile friendly or you are not i.e – you comply with the mobile friendly guidelines or you don’t.
Although it seems to me that there are more nuances within this (as always with Google); for example, you may have a responsive site that renders beautifully, with an easy to use checkout system and crawlable content, though there’s an unplayable Flash video on the homepage or an irrelevant internal link and it seems unlikely that this would render the site (or even page) ‘mobile unfriendly’. (Note this is purely intuition talking here and not based on experience or data). Regardless – as wise digital marketers – it still makes sense to understand how mobile friendly we are beyond the Google testing tool or mobile usability report.
To do this; run a crawl (I use ScreamingFrog) of both yourself and your primary competitors within the space and spend time understanding the entire mobile landscape. Not all niches are created equal and there are certain niches where your room for error may be bigger. For example for the query ‘law firms’ (Google UK) three of the five organic results were not mobile friendly whereas for the query ‘black dresses’ all were mobile friendly.
Questions to consider are whether your competitors are responsive, dynamic serving, m.s and where this leaves you in the pecking order (Google prefers responsive sites), is all the content accessible and indexable and importantly, who has more? Do you, or your competitors, have faulty redirects or mobile 404s? Also consider whether your competitor sites faster than yours? (Google PageSpeed Insights lets you look at both desktop and mobile).
Understanding where you sit against competitors allows you to both:
- Prioritise tasks and changes in terms of importance
- Create a compelling business case to get the resource for fixes
What’s Now & Next
Once you have the fundamentals of mobile SEO ticked off and recognise where you sit within the broader landscape, then it’s time to start optimising to get the most from your mobile strategy. Aleyda Solis wrote an in-depth article here that covers multiple aspects of maximising the mobile potential. Apps and app indexing are the next big phase of mobile SEO, Google is already incorporating information from apps as a ranking factor for users who have the app installed and they will increasingly surface content directly from apps within the SERPS. Justin Briggs wrote an in-depth article on app search here.
Mobile search is evolving fast and it can seem overwhelming and difficult to keep on top; the key to remember is fundamentals first, then enjoy all of the growth opportunities a successful mobile strategy can bring!
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